The Oscars

Lucia Proctor-Bonbright (’14)

Award season in our household is a very involved experience. Every year come October the DVDs of nominated movies will start coming in the mail, and, to my particular joy, the film screening invitations. My mother, being a member of the British Academy of Film and Television, votes for the BAFTA awards, which, almost universally forecasts the winners in the Oscars which takes place a week or so later. I remember the years by the movies and performances that stood out. When I was eleven, The Last King of Scotland emerged as a standout piece of work with an extraordinary performance by Forest Whitaker. The next year the erudite Daniel Day Lewis won his second Academy Award for There Will be Blood and claimed his place along side Meryl Streep as Oscar royalty. There are good years for films and bad years, years more focused on women or historical drama, inspiring years and years where the crop of films are more pedestrian.  There seemed to me to be a great deal of justice served at the 86th Academy Awards. Actors were not rewarded on their skill alone, but for their bravery. They had the courage to step outside of themselves, their lives, and their public personas. The two best actors, Jared Leto and Mathew McConaughey physically transformed themselves by losing a great deal of weight. It was not the weight loss alone, however, that was their great triumph.  They then went on to live the lives of marginalized characters, leaving every shed of allure and sparkle behind before our eyes in Dallas Buyers Club.

The first time I saw 12 Years a Slave was at an industry screening a month or two before the release date of the film. When I walked out of the theatre I was positive, without having seen a single other nominated film, that it would walk away with best picture. I felt like I had been witness to both an art installation and a deeply real human story, for which I think the credit goes to the film’s director, Steve McQueen. It was clear in every frame that this was a fine artist working in the medium of film and that these images cut together on the screen were exactly what he wanted them to be. Harrowing is what most people will call it, and yes, it is not easy to watch; his movie slices through flesh until it hits bone. But it is worth it for what we learn and what we feel. Dallas Buyers Club too, with its disease, injustice, and trauma is an intense experience for an audience.

This year, there was no room for excess. That is where movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and even Oscar favorite American Hustle lost out. Anything that cushioned or glamorized within a movie dimmed in comparison to the brutal honesty. I think Cate Blanchet said it best in her acceptance speech for Best Actress this year when she said: “As random and subjective as this award is, it means a great deal”. There is no quantitative way to decide what is the “Best” among these pieces of work, it is all subjective and dependent on the year, the competition, even the economic or political climate of the time. But what I love about the Academy Awards is that it creates space for great work and commitment to honest storytelling to be recognized.

This year the Academy saw through the industry’s more superficial offerings and awarded the rawboned, real stories, that illuminated human suffering. That is what we can take from this year;  work that reflects the darkest places that people can go,  can and will find recognition in a glittering theater in Los Angeles hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.

Fares Chehabi (’14)

Ah, the Oscars. The most prestigious awards ceremony in showbiz usually surprises and splits opinion. This year, however, I think the Oscars got it right. The rightful recipients were awarded for their incredible, heroic work.

Alfonso Cuarón, somehow, achieved his spectacular vision for Gravity, and then some. The film was a masterpiece in the art of cinematography (for which the film’s cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki rightfully landed his respective gong) and put its viewers right on the edge of their seats throughout its running time. The film was the director’s dream put into motion, and every shot affirmed this notion. Cuarón’s receiving the Best Director award was fully justified.

12 Years a Slave deserved Best Picture, however, for brilliantly dealing with the issue of slavery in 20th century America, an issue too long tucked under the rug of American cinema. I’ve watched Steve McQueen’s previous two feature films Hunger and Shame, and his career progression and outstanding improvement as a filmmaker was cemented by his receiving the night’s most-coveted award. His next project will be keenly anticipated.

Chiwetel Ejiofor was the charismatic leading man for McQueen and deserved his nomination for Best Actor, but the award was handed to Matthew McConaughey, whose performance in Dallas Buyers Club I am yet to see. Part of me thinks McConaughey was awarded more in recognition of his upturn in quality in recent years. From playing the typical rom-com heartthrob to stealing the show in Magic Mike and, more recently, Mud, McConaughey has certainly come a long way.

It should be noted that McConaughey beat out his Wolf of Wall Street co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, who continues his wait for Hollywood’s most famous golden statuette. I need not remind you that the consistently phenomenal Gary Oldman has only ever been nominated once for an Academy Award, and lost. But back to DiCaprio, whose performance in Wolf was nothing short of electric. He’ll get his Oscar sooner rather than later, I’m sure.

Best Actress was awarded to Cate Blanchett, but I have yet to see her performance in Blue Jasmine. Of the performances nominated for Best Actress, I have only seen Sandra Bullock’s in Gravity. For my two pence, I think she only played the role of a small cog in Cuarón’s wonderfully gigantic dream machine. Any talented middle-aged actress could have played her role. The film did not need any carrying on the acting side of things, even though Bullock was alone for most of the movie.

On a different note entirely: When does the whole shabang go from tasteful to tasteless? Are we not just watching a bunch of rich folk achieve further recognition on top of the millions they receive in paychecks every few months or so? I tip my hat off to this year’s host Ellen DeGeneres for humanizing the whole affair. Apparently, Brad Pitt eats pizza. And he doesn’t care how messy he looks in front of his dearest Angelina.

Ray Blanch Math Teacher

The Oscars have been presented, winners have gone home smiling and losers have demonstrated that they can indeed act. The Academy Awards Ceremony was viewed by over 43 million people around the globe and if you missed the event there is a selfie circling the world to remind you of some of the celebrities that graced the stage that night. Are you a true cinephile? Do you recall the winner of last year’s best film? Who hosted the evening last year? I enjoy movies —each Saturday I clutch my Cineworld card firmly and wander into a midday matinee —however, I don’t recall many of the previous year’s winners. The winners, to me, are not the films or the actors that received the most nominations, or who walked away with a 13.2 inch statuette. The winners are the films, and the actors, that made me cry, think, laugh, spill the popcorn in fright or just allowed me to imagine for one shiny moment that a man can fly.

A night at the Oscars is like a movie in itself. The length of the ceremony gives The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit a run for their money. The price of the ticket is free so you get a true bargain that usually includes a laugh, a song, several trailers and the stray tear during the In Memoriam.

It is difficult to compare one actor to another. There is no first past the post, no winning number of baskets shot or the highest poker hand shown. Each performer is in a different role with different directors using different words. Nonetheless the Academy members make their selections and so do film buffs around the world. We all get caught up in the hype. We all cast our votes – some of us probably have our own acceptance speech rehearsed.

The numbers don’t always tell the story. Gravity may have won seven Oscars but failed to be given the title of Best Film. American Hustle received 10 nominations but didn’t hear the magic words “and the Oscar goes to…” The Great Gatsby was nominated for two awards and walked away with two awards. A perfect score!

I too had my own preferences. 12 Years a Slave truly deserved to win the Best Picture. I was happy with the result. The movie was powerful, the performances excellent. Gravity was a close second in my mind. When Sandra Bullock’s character looked as though she was floating off to Neverland, I was hooked. The terror expressed in her face and the camera work with the tumbling sequence certainly brought gravity to her situation. Although there were other parts of the film in which the scenarios were less plausible, the film was outstanding. Alfonso Cuarón deserved his Academy Award for Best Director for Gravity.

I was disappointed with Matthew McConaughey winning the Best Actor. Although I admire and respect his talent, McConaughey seems to only play one type of character. Admittedly his weight loss was impressive. I was barracking for Chiwetel Ejiofor from 12 Years a Slave or Christian Bale in American Hustle. I must confess I haven’t seen Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Ejiofor was outstanding as Solomon Northup and Bale, well, what a talent, the dark knight did indeed rise.

I almost applauded and hollered, only to realize I had neighbours, when Cate Blanchett won the Best Actress for her role in Blue Jasmine. She delivered the character of Jasmine, the worn out, deeply troubled socialite with gusto. Bravo. The category of Best Supporting Actor had me torn between Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips). Both gave wonderful performances, although I thought Abdi had the edge with his ability to portray the desperate Somali pirate – a man trapped in a no-win situation.

The Best Supporting Actress was another category in which I was torn. I would have presented two statuettes. The first to Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle, who showed that there is more to her than her Katniss Everdeen character, the second to Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave. Nyong’o was the Academy’s choice. She is tipped to have a bright future.

There were other awards that could be debated. Why didn’t Despicable Me 2 get the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film? I saw it twice! Technical awards and honorary awards were quickly mentioned. The Gordon E. Sawyer Award and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award were awarded to Peter Anderson and Angelina Jolie respectively.

Now that the red carpet has been rolled up and stored for another twelve months, it is our turn to be the winners. We have the chance to view the wonderful creations that filmmakers and actors can throw at us for the next twelve months.